A lot has changed since this picture was taken, at my very first book signing at the Vestal Barnes & Noble, in April, 2008. I'd sold my very first short story, "The Way Station", to The Midnight Diner, as well as my first nonfiction story "Choices" to an inspirational collection, "Life Savors." I'd earned actual, for REAL cash for my writing. I'd arrived, baby, and was on my way to writing success.
Actually, for a year after this early burst of success, I made some key - if relatively minor - blunders, spending lots of time submitting mediocre stories (or worse, GOOD stories that could've sold elsewhere) to "4theluv" anthologies and magazines that didn't help advance my career at all. Most importantly, these markets didn't push me to become a better writer.
So, I started listening to my peers, soaking in advice from more experienced writers, reading blogs and writers' memoirs, hunkering down, talking very little, and LISTENING at every Con I attended (which, by the way, is better by FAR than intentionally trying to glad-hand everyone in the place). In the process, I compiled a healthy "do and don't do" list in my head in regards to publishing, based on all the advice I'd received.
And a lot of this was good advice, excellent advice, in many cases. I've moved slowly over the past few years (though this can be attributed also to a full time job, two children under nine, one with special needs), becoming careful about which markets I submit my work to, deciding to write only stories I really needed to write, not rushing to write and publish one novel after another. And this, of course, jivved with everything I'd been TOLD by folks wiser than myself.
Then, something interesting happened. I got the chance to pitch a series to a major New York publisher. And, lo and behold, they showed VERY little to NO interest in anything else I'd done prior to the manuscript I was pitching. They didn't care where I'd peddled my short stories, or that Hiram Grange was small press, or anything like that. They just cared what was on the table before them.
This was a revelation. Flying in the face of all the: "sell your short stories to pro markets only, because no one will take you seriously if you don't" credo. Now, who knows - maybe this editor passed on my pitch because of that, but just didn't want to tell me. But I don't think that's the case. Our conversation revolved entirely around my pitch's strengths and weaknesses, not my publishing history.
Factor in the number of pro short story markets that have tanked in the last few years, the number of semi-pro markets that have likewise died, the Leisure/Dorchester fiasco, and the number of talented, seasoned, proven authors suddenly self-publishing...
A lot has changed since 2008.
Well, not necessarily. Some things haven't changed, like:
1. good writing takes time, effort, sacrifice, humility, critique, and rejection
2. the best stories are the ones generated internally, from real, human emotions
3. none of these things are produced instantaneously
4. there are many different paths to quality publication
But here's a truth that I've come to believe, one I've suspected for the past year or so and have finally accepted, one that kinda flies in the face of all the original advice I received in the first two years of my "career": our writing careers are not doomed by any ONE thing. Which, of course, means:
- selling a few stories to semi-pro, or, even token markets, will NOT ruin a career
- self-publishing one novel - one collection - one novella - will NOT prohibit traditional
publication in the future
- selling a small press novel will NOT prevent people - and big publishers - from taking you
seriously in the future
Far as a I can tell, the only thing that "dooms" a writer's career (and this also depends largely on what said writer WANTS from their career) is not moving forward/upward. Not challenging yourself to write better, finer prose; not challenging yourself to conquer harder, more competitive markets.
You do what you do, do your very best to make IT the very best....
Then you move forward, trying something different, harder, climbing the ladder, not resting where you are, and challenging a new, harder, more competitive market...somehow, keeping an open mind, WITHOUT having everything you do dictated by a "do/don't" list.
This has become very freeing, allowing me to enjoy simply WRITING a lot more. Because, regardless of where I am NOW, I know I'm moving forward, upward. I'm targeting markets higher than the ones I've been published in before, and as long as every step is just a little bit HIGHER than where I am, I'm content.
So far, I've sold stories to semi-pro collections with TOC's filled with contemporaries and peers, and sold a novella to a small press publisher. However, in the past year, I sold a novella and a short story to collections/publications not only featuring my peers, but people ABOVE me. Hence, small steps forward.
Soon, I'll see a short story published in Horror Library's 5th Volume, once again appearing in a TOC with names "bigger" than me, including Bentley Little. A really nice step forward, in my opinion.
Next November, I'll see my first collection of short stories published, by a publisher also trafficking in names "bigger" than mine. I'm currently running a podcast series - Horror 101 - at Tales to Terrify, which has recently been nominated for their work.
I've just finished my first novel, which I've decided to pitch to mid-list and higher publishers only. I soon hope to write a novella I'd like to submit to Dark Fuse Publishers. For NANOWRIMO next year, I'd like to write a gothic novel and submit it to Samhain Horror.
All these markets are ABOVE where I am now. I'm moving upward and forward. Not resting on what I've done before. It's slow, but it's happening.
And I feel blessed that it is.